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How to Know God: The Soul’s Journey into the Mystery of Mysteries by Deepak Chopra + Author Interview [in aOnline]

How to Know GodThe Divine Dr. Deepak Chopra

Named by Time Magazine as one of their 100 heroes and icons of the century, earning him the title of “the poet-prophet of alternative medicine,” Dr. Deepak Chopra has made a profound impact on how America (and the rest of the world) thinks about medicine. In fact, on March 21 at a state dinner in India, President Bill Clinton had only lauds for Dr. Chopra: “My country has been enriched by the contributions of more than a million Indian Americans, which includes Dr. Deepak Chopra, the pioneer of alternative medicine.” No surprise, then, that Chopra was chosen to give the keynote address at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders’ kick off celebration of Asian and Pacific Heritage Month in Washington, DC on May 1.

The White House Initiative, along with Dr. Chopra, is also celebrating President Clinton’s June 7, 1999 signing of Executive Order 13125, which seeks to improve the quality of life for Asian Pacific Americans through increased participation in federal programs where they may be underserved. The Order is also historically significant in that the last Executive Order referring to Asian Pacific Americans was Number 1066, signed by FDR, which sent over 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent to concentration camps for the duration of World War II.

When Chopra took the stage in the standing-room-only 650-seat capacity auditorium of the Ronald Reagan Building, he began with his own experience of coming to America. In contrast to the heart-wrenching immigration stories shared by Shamina Singh, executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who preceded Chopra, his story he readily announced was “on the humorous side.”

At the end of the Vietnam Era, when he was a medical student in India, Chopra received a letter from a small hospital in Plainfield, New Jersey. Because many of the U.S. physicians had been deployed to Vietnam, the country was suffering a medical shortage. In order to qualify to enter the U.S. as a medical employee, Chopra had to pass an exam, one that was banned in India. So he went to Sri Lanka, took the exam which not only measured his medical prowess but his grasp of the English language as well: “Question #1 – True or False. A heavyweight boxer is a man who lifts heavy boxes.” Needless to say, he passed.

Returning to India, he was allowed to leave the country with only the equivalent of $8 in his pocket upon departure. He stopped over in London, where an uncle gave him $100. “So I had a total of $108, which is an auspicious number in India.” He celebrated with a stopover in Paris, where he spent the whole amount at the Moulin Rouge and by the time he reached New York, he had to call the hospital – collect, no less – to send a car if they really wanted him. They sent a helicopter.

He spent his first night in America in a New Jersey motel, fascinated by the color television he was seeing for the first time. When he saw the footage of a body being wheeled in a cart, he suddenly realized that that’s where he would be going – to a hospital and bodies: “I knew all the medicine in the world, but had never seen a patient.” Two hours later, he was called by a nurse to deal with “an expiration.” Not wanting to let on that he had no idea what she was talking about, he answered with, “you bet, I’ll be right there.” He arrived to a sobbing family and, to his surprise, a corpse. When he asked the nurse what to do, she said “pronounce him.” Responding to his puzzlement, she qualified with “Pronounce him dead.” His response: “I felt very powerful. This person couldn’t be dead without my pronouncement.” But he thought a pronouncement called for a ceremony, so he asked the nurse for “a torch.” Having learned British English, he was actually asking for a flashlight. The nurse, on the other hand, said in great surprise and shock to another nurse, “He wants a torch. Maybe he wants to do a cremation.” As the audience roared, Chopra added, “Welcome to New Jersey.”

Two or three days after such an auspicious beginning (must have been that $108), Chopra got the hang of the language. “I learn fast,” he added. And eventually, he got to Harvard, and got to study endocrinology as he had hoped to do upon leaving India.

By 1985, however, after he had enough of “pushing legalized drugs,” i.e. writing prescriptions, and after much soul searching, Chopra turned to other modes of medicine. The career that followed has proved to be a phenomenal success. Author of over 25 books and more than 100 audio, video, and CD-ROM titles, and the founding CEO of The Chopra Center of Well Being in La Jolla, California, Chopra is known the world over. In his signature 1993 bestseller, Agesless Mind, Timeless Body, Chopra challenged that mind and body are inextricably linked and in understanding that symbiotic relationship, one can reverse the process of aging. His latest book is How to Know God: The Soul’s Journey into the Mystery of Mysteries, which debuted on the top of the charts, and explores how anyone can have a direct relationship with the divine.

Just before his celebration speech, I had the chance to interview Dr. Chopra at the Four Seasons Hotel. And if I had to choose one phrase to describe him, it would be “down-to-earth.” Having arrived at 1:30 a.m. the night before, by 9 a.m. he was impeccably groomed, with his hotel bed made (!), and within minutes of my arrival, multitasking with his executive assistant, Carolyn Rangel, who was discussing the upcoming speech with Ruby Lam, deputy director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. His son, Guathama, an anchor with California-based Channel One, also made an unobtrusive appearance with a friend. In spite of all the bodies in the room, Chopra was amazing at being one-on-one with just me. And I’m thinking “awesome.” And thus we began.

Welcome to Washington, DC. And thank you for coming to kick off the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebrations. Could you talk a little about what your own Asian American heritage has meant to you. Has your appreciation of your Indian heritage changed tremendously since moving away from your Western-based medical career?
You carry in your genes your ancestral memories, and your cultural memories. No matter where you go, you carry the whole history of your culture, and the whole history of your whole civilization at a very subtle level and that’s who you are basically. And even though I have been here now for over 30 years, I more strongly identify with my heritage, but at the same time, I’m also aware that depending on how strongly you identify with your culture, it can be an advantage and it can be a burden. We know that those who are very strongly entrenched in a certain identity are not open to adventure, are not open to the unknown, if you will. This is so true of some of the old cultures in Europe – for example, France, particularly – that is so burdened by its culture that it’s behind culturally. I feel that as Asian Americans, we bring a whole philosophical framework, a whole different world view here, but at the same time we must integrate it with America and even though as I said the other day that I consider myself a citizen of the cosmos, I’m more American right now than Indian, in my habits and my daily activities, and in the way I think. […click here for more]

Author interview“The Divine Dr. Deepak Chopra,” aOnline website, May 15, 2000

Readers: Adult

Published: 2000


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